The 3-13 Chicago Bears host the 12-4 Minnesota Vikings in the regular season finale in Week 18. Both teams are playing for different things, so the game brings some fascinating storylines.
Can Vikings Reclaim 2 Seed?
The Vikings lost their pole position for the second seed in the NFC conference with their catastrophic Week 17 performance in Green Bay. 41-17 was the final result, but it should’ve been worse than that. The Vikings need help to recoup the second seed in the conference, as the 49ers have to lose while the Vikings have to win.
The tricky part is that the Vikings play earlier than the 49ers, so San Francisco will know precisely if they have to play at full strength when their game starts. Just like the Vikings, the 49ers will have a division battle scheduled. They will host the Cardinals and are 14-point favorites. Another interesting wrinkle is that David Blough is the starting quarterback in Arizona.
Can the Vikings Defense Finally Stop Someone?
Blough was a Vikings’ practice squad member until the Cardinals signed him a few weeks ago. He could make the Vikings a late Christmas gift if he could pull off a win. The second seed is important because that team will host a second playoff game instead of having to travel, most likely to the third seed.
Playing Starters or Backups?
One of the most interesting in-season debates a fan base can have is if the starters should play in a somewhat meaningless game in Week 18. As previously mentioned, the Vikings need the Cardinals to beat the 49ers, which is unlikely to happen. However, it was also unlikely that the Vikings could erase a 33-0 deficit against the Colts and from a 27-10 deficit against the Bills in just this season, so the Vikings are used to improbable odds.
Another aspect the Vikings should look at is the chemistry on the field, especially across the offensive line. The Vikings will go into the game with Chris Reed at center and Oli Udoh at right tackle. That line combination only played on the fly against the Packers and could need extra playing time.
The Vikings certainly want to go into the playoffs with a better taste in their mouth than the loss in Green Bay. A hybrid solution is also possible. The Vikings may opt to watch the snap counts of some players, especially veterans. They could start to pull starters in the unlikely event of a blowout win, something the 2022 Vikings have not done.
Jefferson Record Watch
One of the biggest things to watch is Justin Jefferson and his pursuit of the single-season receiving record. His bad game against the Packers didn’t help him to achieve that goal. However, he is still within reach of the record. He needs 194 yards to break Calvin Johnson’s mark and 229 yards to reach 2,000 yards.
Both numbers are extremely high for ordinary players, but Jefferson is an exceptional talent. In the game against the Lions last month, Jefferson recorded 223 yards. He also had 193 against the Bills. The Vikings could try to force-feed him the ball to make it happen.
Can Defense Finally Stop Someone?
The Vikings’ defense has been struggling all season long to stop opponents. Subpar quarterbacks like Mike White and Mac Jones had career days against the Ed Donatell coordinated defense, and most offenses were effective against the purple team. Even Matt Ryan’s Colts scored 36 points, with help from their defense.
The offense of the Chicago Bears is a complete disaster. They will be led by Nathan Peterman, a quarterback with one of the worst passing games in recent history because Justin Fields is hurt and can’t play. The running backs Khalil Herbert and David Montgomery are solid players, but the wideouts are a different story.
Equanimeous St. Brown, Byron Pringle, and Dante Pettis are not quite elite players. Chase Claypool recorded 111 receiving yards in six games with the Bears. If the Vikings can’t stop that offense, there’s no way anyone should take them seriously as a contender for a deep postseason run.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt